Egyptian Extravaganza plays at the warehouse space the Colab Factory in SE1 this week. It is an immersive production which attempts to question cultural appropriation, by taking 1920’s Egypt as a setting and by introducing us to Tutankhamun.
Tutankhamun him/herself (played by Holli Dillon) is the best thing about this. She is witty and fun to watch and saves the ‘extravaganza’ from being merely weird. However the rest of the show is hard to follow and messy despite brave turns by some of the other actors. The immersive element of it starts out ok, as we descend into the rather dank basement which has been enlivened by incense, and come across various characters in 1920’s gear. A procession leads in, with ‘King Tut’ at the back of it, speaking solemnly in what we believe to be Egyptian incantations. As she sits in her throne, and we get to admire her stunning golden attire (the legwear alone is amazing) she starts speaking in a modern American slang and reveals to us that the objective of this gathering (which we are a part of) is to have a big party.
I can’t tell you much about the plot, as there isn’t really one to speak of. Instead of a narrative, we are introduced to a few scenes, and invited to follow the cast around into the corners of the basement as they change costumes and characters a few times. King Tut mostly sits amongst us, calling out witticisms about what is going on, winning over the audience. The overriding theme is that none of us really know what happened back in Ancient Egypt, nor in the 20’s when the ancient Pharaoh’s tomb was discovered practically intact by English archaeologist Howard Carter. Carter is played by actor Leah Kirby, who throws herself into the mayhem of the part with much silliness and humour and a few stick-on or maybe drawn-on moustaches.
After about 40 minutes Holli Dillon takes off her headdress and suddenly and disarmingly explains that she is an actor. We are pretty much taken aback by this (despite her only pointing out the obvious) as she proceeds to question the audience about our views on cultural appropriation. It is an interesting step, to break the fourth wall in this way, and I applaud the actors for their bravery here as it feels pretty uncomfortable and silent at first, but some members of the audience get into the spirit of it and join in the conversation. However it made me personally want to run away in pure British embarrassment.
By Hatty Uwanogho